by Patrick Sandeman

Celebrations聽begin on Christmas Eve, once our shops are closed and all聽deliveries completed. A restorative聽‘copita’ of Valdespino’s聽Inocente Fino聽as we lay the fire and prepare dinner is a precursor to a glass or two聽of champagne,聽most likely聽Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition, with a few slices of ‘pata negra’ ham, such a treat! Rare roast fillet of venison (from Richmond Park of all places) is sweet and midly gamey and accompanies, as ever, a bottle or two of Tassinaia one of Tuscany’s best value Bordeaux style wines. This year we will be聽in the聽remote family cottage, up the estuary from Salcombe in Devon, and now that the family is all grown up there is a high risk that we will all adjourn to the local pub to sing carols late into the night. A final nightcap of Lea & Sandeman’s very fine Fins Bois Moyet Cognac will round off the evening nicely.

Christmas morning starts with our traditional breakfast of salmon fishcakes, washed down with a glass of Larmandier-Bernier’s stunning ‘Terre de Vertus’;聽 totally dry ‘non-dosage’, biodynamic and so very clean it is almost healthy! The turkey is introduced to a long stay in the bottom of the聽aga (along with the best part of a聽bottle of sherry in the pan)聽while we don our boots and coats and set off on foot聽for the small church of St Nicholas and St Cyriac at South Pool. The Christmas service puts聽us in mind of all that is yet to come, and especially the聽Millbrook聽on the walk home where we will briefly聽stop聽to soak up some Christmas cheer and a pint of cider.

Christmas lunch is a brief affair of smoked salmon, blue Wensleydale and salad, accompanied by a bottle of Bert Salomon’s bracing Gruner Veltliner ‘Von Stein’ Reserve, and possibly a glass of the succulent 2009 Fleurie, Clos de la Roilette. Our appetites are kept in check for the serious business of Christmas dinner. An afternoon wandering down the estuary in the fading, watery afternoon light is followed by making up the fires in the cottage and final prepartions for dinner; and聽it is聽only when聽the table is ready and the kitchen calm聽do we turn our attention to presents and yet more champagne.

Presents are despatched from under the decorated聽holly tree as we enjoy a glass of聽 R&L Legras 2002聽Presidence Vieilles Vignes an exceptionally fine chardonnay based champagne, without too much fizz,聽not unlike drinking a very good white burgundy.

The smell from the kitchen聽has our appetites whetted and the golden聽turkey is resplendent. Chipolatas, roasted potatoes, chestnut stuffing, brussel sprouts (yes, we all love them) bread sauce and gravy create a cacophony of flavours and a dilemma for most red wines. Some might drink white, such as聽the rich white burgundy聽that is聽Vire Clesse from Jean Thevenet’s Domain de la Bongran聽but if it聽is going to聽be red, then Pinot Noir is our choice of the day and we will compare and contrast both the ‘new’ and the ‘old’ in the form of Thierry Mortet’s full bodied Gevrey-Chambertin聽and Nick Mill’s glorious聽Central Otago Pinot Noir. Throughout the festivities there will be a decanter of vintage port on hand, Warre’s 1985 being particularly good right now, but after such a feast the altogether lighter and more refreshing Sandeman Twenty Year old tawny port (slightly chilled) will round off the evening with walnuts and聽sugared orange peel.

Boxing Day morning and together聽with the聽faint liverish feeling of excess聽the mother-in-law arrives, calling for rather stronger medicine all round! Bloody Mary, the pub, and back for a ‘make-do’ lunch of cold turkey and baked potatoes oozing with melted stilton and an uplifting bottle of Le Piane’s ‘La Maggiorina’, a bright and juicy blend of Nebbiolo and Croatina from one of Piedmonte’s tiniest vineyard regions, Boca. The rest of the holiday will see a variety of wines appear on the table from around the globe and the noticeable lack of Bordeaux so far will be redressed over the New Year. But then that is a whole new subject in itself.